Victoria, Season 2 Week 4

Faith, Hope and Charity

This week’s episode centered on the Irish Potato Famine and the British lack of response. First we see a meeting of Church of Ireland pastors, which is connected to the Anglican Church, where the men discuss their response to the potato famine. They’re offering soup kitchens to the Catholics who agree to switch denominations. They gripe about the poor Catholics who haven’t tithed to the Church of Ireland, which the law required them to do. Yes, later in the episode Victoria appalled, too. Why donate to a church you don’t belong to?

In the 19th century anti-Catholicism is in high gear. Only one pastor, Dr. Traill, objects and sees that all the Irish need food. The rest are quite un-Christian and wiling to let their neighbors starve. I suppose they’re unfamiliar with Mark 25: 35-40.

At Kensington Palace, Victoria and Albert welcome Ernst who’s got some mysterious health problem, which turns out to be an STD. The condition is slowly revealed.

Lord Peel and a new character, who’s a real churl, Charles Trevelyan, Assistant Secretary to the Treasury, explain to Victoria why they can’t help the Irish. Trevelan hates the Irish whom he thinks are subhuman. In fact he thinks the famine is a boon, because it will cull the herd. Victoria was rightly appalled. She seeks solutions, but neither Peel nor Trevelyan want to rock the boat in Parliament. Victoria wants to feed these people and she wants to repeal the Corn Laws, tariffs that protected the price of grains. Peel and Vrevelyan worry that if we give free food to the starving, everyone will expect free food.

Victoria confers with Albert over the matter, but Albert’s so upset with the stench of the old plumbing that he brushes her off. He’s hellbent on getting more WC’s in the palace. I’m not sure why he couldn’t manage both issues. He’s basically an executive. His job is to make decisions while someone else installs WC’s or sends the food to Ireland.

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Downstairs our attention is drawn to the servant girl who’s from Ireland. She’s lied about being Protestant to keep her job. Her family is starving back home. She needs to get money to send to them so they can eat. One great scene is when she tells off Penge, who makes snide remarks about Papists and the famine.

Ernst is told that his mistress Harriet’s husband has died. This should be a great opportunity for him to court her openly. (Though this is not historical at all. The real Ernst was already married by now and this particular lord did not die in a hunting accident or in this year. He died later.)

I can’t feel sorry for Ernst. Actions have consequences. Fooling around with prostitutes comes at a cost. Laughing off his choices as following in his reprobate father’s footsteps is ridiculous. Ernst gambled with his life. I will feel sorry for any woman the show might marry him off to.

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A diseased potato

When Victoria asks the duchess about her land in Ireland, Charlotte, dismisses the country as an uncivilized spot with no real society. She should stay in London. The duchess is a poor traveler.

Mr. Francatelli is seen consorting with some woman who wants him to sell palace secrets and go with her to America. Apparently, she’s the source of all the finery he’s been able to afford. However, he decides to stay put (so the storyline with Skerret can continue). He gives the Irish servant girl his gold watch so she can sell it and send the money home.

The queen does send the Irish some help, which is true to the history. In spite of his wife’s protests, Dr. Traill does the Christian thing and opens a soup kitchen at the vicarage. He contracts typhus and dies. The episode ended with a montage of the starving of Ireland. Hats off to the show for using Irish music throughout, but to squeeze a famine that went on for years into one episode is just wrong. I think the issue should have come up throughout this and probably next season.

Here’s a collection of tweets that an Irish newspaper collected in response to this episode.

Blind Date

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Lucky for me my friend’s husband isn’t a theater lover. That’s how I got invited to see Blind Date at the Goodman Theater. Blind Date shows us how Ronald Reagan convinced Mikhail Gorbachev to attend a summit meeting to talk about the weapons race. My understanding of this page of history was foggy, but the performances brought clarity and interest. The play opens with a monologue by George Schultz, Reagan’s Secretary of State. Due to his education and experience in economics, Shultz was able to figure out how Russia would struggle and what the consequences would be. Thus he realized this was a key time to contact Gorbechev, Russia’s youngest General Secretary.

Next Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Eduard Shevardnadze, shares his thinking with the audience before sharing cocktails with Shultz. (In their conversation, which begins awkwardly Shultz tells Shevardnadze about a cocktail called The Kangaroo, which most of us know as a vodka martini.

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We see a lot of negotiating and one step forward, one back action as the two governments and two men figure out whether they should meet and where. It’s quite a chess game and quite interesting. Both powerful men are married to driven women. Nancy Reagan and Raisa Gorbachev have some of the plays best scenes and lines. These women know their minds and masterfully can read situations.

The play has humor but adroitly manages not to canonize or lampoon Reagan. The playwright Rogelio Martinez was born in Cuba and lived there till he was 9 and came to the US. Hence Martinez is fascinated with the ideologies of democracy and communism and has written a series of plays about events like the ping pong competition between China and the US where communism and democracy intersected. It would be easy to make a play that bored or had the wrong tone, but with Blind Date Martinez entertains and enlightens. The play’s pace is good and I could see this show on Broadway. I could see watching this again, which I think is the ultimate goal of a good play.

Kudos to Director Robert Falls and all the performers. Bravo!

Boy Jones

April_24,_1841The newspapers in 1840s got hold of the story of this guttersnipe, as the Duchess of Buccleuth calls him. How could a scamp who can penetrate the security of what was the home of the Queen of England not be newsworthy?

As shown in the drama Victoria (season 2) this boy broke into the palace and had the audacity to steal Victoria’s underwear. He’d poke around the library and even sat on the throne. At first the royals were lenient, but since the boy wouldn’t stop, eventually he was shipped off to Australia.

Victoria, Season 2, Ep 3 & 4

Warp & Weft

There was plenty of sadness in the first hour of Victoria this week. The episode began with Lord Peel talking with a phrenology expert, i.e. someone who measures a person’s head to determine by its size and shape his personality. The subject of this study is the guttersnipe, Boy Jones, who snuck inside the palace on several occasions. (Boy Jones’ escapades are based on history.)

This tomfoolery alarmed Albert who began complaining about how poorly the palace is run. There’s poor plumbing, poor budgeting, etc. and Victoria told Albert he could direct his energies on this and so he starts examining the cleanliness of the windows or any waste from the wine cellars, which makes that annoying Mr. Penge think twice.

Though she’s with child Victoria is not going to let that hinder her carrying out her duties, much to Duchess Buccheuch’s dismay. The duchess is particularly shocked that Victoria granted an audience with the silk maker who made her wedding dress. The silk maker wanted to present the queen with information on how the import of cheap silk is putting him and his colleagues out of business. To help the silk makers, ignoring Lord Peel’s and Albert’s advice, Victoria decides to throw a ball and require that her guests come in silk costumes.

Word gets out about the ball and the high price of Victoria’s gown (64,000£) and parliament and the poor are outraged.

Yet the ball starts out wonderfully. Lord M comes and shares a nice moment with Victoria, whom he’s been avoiding since he’s become ill and doesn’t want to worry her. There’s plenty of flirtation and dancing, but also a broken heart. Miss Coke, who’s recently come to the palace with the duchess, has eyes for Prince Ernst, Albert’s brother, but he’s still sweet on his paramour who’s now faithful to her husband.

However, when all the guests are dancing in their finery, the poor are out front of Buckingham Palace screaming for just since they don’t have enough to eat. Coincidentally, in front of the angry mob is Mrs. Skerret’s cousin, who doesn’t care for royalty. I’m not sure whom she left the daughter Skerret financially supports with.

When Victoria sees them she’s shocked and no doubt thinking of Marie Antoinette, who didn’t realize that if you can’t afford bread, cake is not within your price range either. Victoria simply tried to help and it backfired. She’s guilty of poor planning not indifference. There’s a scene with Victoria staring at all the left over food the day after the ball. While I do believe she’d give the remainders to the poor, I don’t think all this food would be left out over night and into the morning.

The episode ends with Victoria learning that Lord M is terminally ill. She visits him in the country bearing a gift of a mechanical musical bird that sings Mozart. It’s a touching scene where their sorrow is communicated more through looks and actions than through words. Bravo.

Finally, to make things worse, Dash, Victoria’s beloved dog is dead. Victoria finds him spread out on the floor when she returns from seeing Lord M. As the Armchair Anglophile points out, a servant should have noticed a dead dog, given that the palace is full of servants. Poor Victoria is distraught. Who can blame her? We’ll all miss Lord M and Dash.

Sins of the Father

Victoria gives birth to her first son, Albert. We’re presented with the typical labor scene and soon Vicki is getting around in that stroller for new moms. As with her daughter, Victoria finds it hard to find pleasure in her newborn. She thinks babies look like frogs when they’re first born. She falls into postpartum depression and there’s little help available. I was glad that they didn’t just give her some drug that knocks one out. As queen, the courtiers urge her to buck up, but she wasn’t removed to an asylum as was sometimes done in the era. (See this article.)

The big event in this episode is that Prince Albert’s father died. Hoping to lift her spirits, Victoria asks to go with Albert, but he thinks the journey is too exhausting for a new mother so he goes solo.

In Coberg, Albert sees his troublemaking Uncle Leopald, who can’t resist the temptation to make things worse for Albert so he plants the seed that Albert is illegitimate into his nephew’s head. Since his parents were estranged for much of his growing up, Albert believes this. It sure makes for a sensational story, but according to this article*, it’s impossible. Albert also worries that his children would be illegitimate. Well, no. Since Albert and Victoria are married they wouldn’t be, but a checkered past wouldn’t help Albert with the gossip-mongers.

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Albert, hist mother and brother Ernst

Back in London, Lord Peel tries to get Victoria back into action. With her first child, she couldn’t wait to be out and about, now she’s so languid and depressed. It’s not till a bomb explodes at the Tower of London and the Queen should visit and console the injured. She realizes she must, so Victoria forces herself out and does cheer up the wounded. It does them all a world of good. Is this an oversimplification of depression? Perhaps, but I found it plausible and can still offer sympathy to those suffering with it.

Fire at the Grand Storehouse of the Tower of London 1841 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

J.M.W. Turner’s Fire at the Tower of London, 1841

To get an idea of the scope of the fire, I did some research. It was bigger than I imagined from the program. There was a fatality and some injuries. The fire raged from 11:30 pm till about 4 am the next day. J.M.W. Turner made several sketches of it.

Albert returns and matters turn to the poor run of the household. Rumors have gotten out about the royal family and the servants are suspected. The scandal is about Boy Jones, the guttersnipe who’s wily enough to somehow get into the palace. This was a real historical event. Heads may roll.

Since the chef Francatelli is spending freely and buying some luxuries he’s the prime suspect. However, Mrs. Skerret is sweet on him and confesses that her no-good cousin, who’s now drinking too much and continuing to just sponge off Skerret has been selling stories to the tabloids. I’m not alone in thinking this storyline has been week. Victoria felt she had to fire Skerret, though she admits the ladies’ maid has done a better job than any before her. It seems the norm, even today. However, upon his return, Albert insists Skerret gets a second chance, which was nice, but hard to believe since Albert is so concerned about security.

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Anyone catch the breed?

Victoria gets a new puppy from a royal in Muscat, who originally thought of sending something like a tiger. Really? Check with people, even royals before you send them an animal. The puppy does seem to work wonders for her mood. I love the program so I’m not going to analyze whether animals are that therapeutic. I know in many ways they are.


* The article appeared in The Sun, which is a sensationalist paper. My take is if they don’t think Albert was illegitimate, he wasn’t.

Red Velvet

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Dion Johnstone as Ira Aldridge, CST

Chicago Shakespeare Theater presented an excellent production of Red Velvet by Lolita Chakrabarti. The story of the first African American to play Othello on the London state in 1833, the story explores racism. As we know, abolition was a hot issue in the mid-1800s. In England there were protests against the slave trade.

When Ian Keen, who starred as Othello, fell ill the manager of the Covent Garden Theater chose Ira Aldridge, a black actor from America to play Othello. Some in the cast were excited and supportive, but Ian’s son and another actor were strongly opposed.

Aldridge was a fine, thoughtful actor, whose goal was to work in London. He takes his art seriously and gives a passionate performance the first night. However, the critics were shocked to see an actor of African heritage on stage and their reviews were venomous. The manager, Pierre LaPorte is a good friend of Aldridge and he counsels the actor to tone down his performance. Yet we can see that Aldridge can’t rein in his perfectionism. His desire to bring Othello to life as he reads the play leads to disaster. A consummate professional, Aldridge pushes the edges of his performance.

The performances were all pitch perfect and the play was compelling as it showed a chapter of theater history, I wasn’t aware of. The play has been produced in London and New York. If it comes to your hometown, I highly recommend you check it out.

Cee’s Which Way Challenge

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Prince Gong’s Palace Complex

Here’s my first entry for Cee’s Which Way Challenge where bloggers post a photo that shows a way, e.g. a road, path, bridge, etc.

Above you see a short path cutting though a patch of bamboo at Prince Gong’s Palace in Beijing. This palace is a less crowded, smaller version of the Forbidden City. A nice place to visit when you don’t have 3 hours or you want to avoid crowds.

(Does anyone else get annoyed with the autocorrection forever changing Cee to See?)